Monday, May 14, 2018

The genius of Houston deed restrictions, micro-transit solution to rail fail, tech to end traffic, top rankings and more

My featured item this week is another in Nolan Gray's excellent series at Market Urbanism on Houston's unique and free market land-use regulationThe Case for Subsidizing Deed Restrictions, which Houston does with a City legal department enforcing them.  Highly recommend reading the whole thing, but he ends with this great conclusion:
"This is the genius of Houston’s unique system: Let those with strong preferences for tight restrictions have them and the city as a whole can go on operating under a largely liberal land-use regime. There is a valuable lesson here for other cities: when attempting to liberalize land-use regulations, consider strengthening the private (subdivision deed restrictions) and public (stricter local rules subject to local consensus) mechanisms whereby the most powerful opponents of liberalization can simply opt out. Houston figured this out in 1965 and again deployed this strategy to great effect in the 1998 subdivision regulation overhaul. In relationships as in city planning, sometimes you have to give a little to get a little."
Hear hear! Moving on to this week's items:
"In the meantime think about this.  What could we have done instead with the $2.2 billion that was spent on light rail?  The answer is lots.  Like solving most of our flooding problem or resurfacing virtually every street in the street in the City or repairing our dilapidated wastewater system or putting more police officers on the streets or demolishing some of the thousands of dangerous buildings in the City or any one of dozens of other critical priorities facing the City. 
The question is not whether light rail is a good thing or not.  The question is whether it was the best use of $2.2 billion of taxpayer money.  The answer to that question is pretty clearly, “No.”
"According to the American Public Transportation Association, the average speed of rapid rail (a.k.a. heavy rail) is just 20 mph, while the average speed of rapid bus is less than 11 mph. 
According to the 2016 National Transit Database, the nation’s fastest heavy-rail line is BART, which averages 35 mph. Atlanta’s is 31 and Washington’s is 27, while New York City subways average just 18 mph. Considering that most transit riders also have to take time getting to and from transit stations, none of these can compete effectively with door-to-door driving, which in San Antonio averages 33 mph."
"For decades, cities have overseen transit monopolies that use heavy infrastructure, fixed routes and set schedules, under the premise that these will spur surrounding growth. And in many cities, they have. But thanks to the rise of the gig economy, workers often find themselves making multiple trips in a given day, and public transit has proven inflexible — unable to get them from point A to point B in a timely manner, or at all. As a result, even densifying cities have seen declining ridership. 
Contrast that with private transit, which has grown in success by pursuing “microtransit.” This model stresses malleable routes, on-demand service, smaller vehicles and minimal brick-and-mortar infrastructure. Companies include the bus services Via and Chariot; the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft; and the bike-share services Zagster and LimeBike. Their flexibility lets them locate where demand exists, rather than counting on populations to come to them.
...
Indeed, these new microtransit companies could increase the flexibility of  transit, creating systems that are complicated yet smart, not orderly but dumb."
Finally, building on last week's post, it turns out that not only does Houston employ more people inside its city limits than larger city Chicago, it even employs more than much larger Los Angeles!  Reasons: I'd guess good annexation and multiple major job centers. Again hat tip and graphics credit to George.  Click to enlarge.



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Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Solving the Corps' reservoir dirt problem, HTX vs. NYC apts, HTX > Chicago, transit's expensive demise, Houston's hilarious "end of the universe", and more

Before jumping into this week's items, an idea:  The Army Corps of Engineers wants to dig out Addicks and Barker reservoirs deeper so they can hold more water, but they're not sure what to do with the dirt.  How about using it to elevate the new high-speed rail line to Dallas, which has to be grade-separated anyway?  Please pass along if you know anyone with the Corps or Texas Central.  Idea credit to Patrick.

Moving on to this week's items:
"Fares paid by riders cover only about a quarter of these costs.  That means taxpayers who do not ride transit are spending over $50 billion per year to subsidize those who do.  In 2017, trips on transit were less than 1% of the total daily trips taken by Americans.  That works out to the 99% of Americans that don't use transit paying about $160 per year for the 1% that do.  The value to the 1% who ride transit is about $14,000 per year."
  ...
But it is clear that we are in the midst of a technological revolution in transportation.  The most important thing is that we don't spend a lot of money on inflexible infrastructure.   I suspect that in the not too distant future, we are going to look back on our light rail experiment in Houston as the City's worst ever white elephant."
  • Houston has more people employed in city limits than Chicago! Hat tip and graphics credit to George.  Click to enlarge.
Chicago
Houston

Finally, to end on a little humor: I've actually had this item ready to post for a long time, but read that Lewis Black was in town last weekend to do some stand-up (KUHF story link) which reminded me.  Here's his (locally) famous bit about the Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks in River Oaks being the "end of the universe".  It's hilarious, and he doesn't even mention the *third* Starbucks next door inside the Barnes and Noble! ;-D

(If the embeded video below fails to play, go here)



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